Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Begonias for the Windowsill

(image borrowed from
Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website ( to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

"Winter begonias are varieties with fancy leaves and some small flowers. The leaves are breathtaking to look at because the markings and colors on the leaves are marvelous. If you pick off the flowers, the leaves will get bigger and more colorful.

Most begonias are grown as houseplants; they come from tropical regions of the country. There are numerous new varieties that are grown for outdoor use, but they can grow indoors for a short time. Knowing this, you must keep these plants warm indoors, or grow them outside during the summer. Indoors during the winter, the begonia will thrive if you use grow lights on it, but they are not necessary. These fancy-leaf begonias love high humidity so place them on plastic saucers filled with small stones. Fill the tray every morning--the water will evaporate during the day, helping the plant grow better. I have found that misting of the foliage will cause spotting of the foliage and may cause powdery mildew; this detracts from their looks. If you use a humidifier in the house keep them close by.

Water plants as needed. Keep moist from May to September and on the dry side during the winter. Fertilize begonias year round with a fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Blooming and Rooting Plant Food. The stems are fleshy, so be sure to use a well drained potting soil. (Like Bar Harbor Blend by Coast of Maine Organics!) Heavy soils will rot the stems. Select a location in your home that has no drafts from windows or doors. Temperature-wise, begonias need to be 65 degrees plus all year long. When the plant is exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees it will be chilled and the leaves will begin to fall from the plant.

Begonias do not like to be moved often around your house. Find a spot for them, then leave them alone and let them stay put. Begonias do not need to be repotted often. They grow better in smaller pots, so be sure the pot they are in is filled with roots like a spider web before you move them. When repotting, use a man-made soil or a lightweight artificial soil. When you over-pot in large pots, the plants can suffer from overwatering and root rot more easily. Never push down hard on the newly potted soil or you will squeeze the air out of it. Think soft and fluffy when repotting and the plant will thrive.

Begonias need moderate light during the summer, so place them in a east or west window. During the winter, a south-facing window is best--or place them under grow lights. Fertilizer is necessary during the growing season May to September. The plant should usually be fertilized every 2 weeks, except during the winter fertilize only once a month. Use a balanced fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Blooming and Rooting Plant Food. If yellow spots develop on the leaves remove them and clean the plant. Do not crowd begonias by putting other plants around them; give them room to grow and space around them for better air circulation.

The best varieties for the winter are the 'Iron Cross' or 'Rex' begonias. Leaf color ranges from numerous shades of green to silver, pink, red and gold. The leaves can be smooth, ruffled, spotted, and almost puckered. Some of the varieties look like stained glass windows. The flowers are small and several on hanging stems, pink in color--but the foliage is why you grow the plant. With a little care, plants should last several years in your home. Moving them outside for the summer and back indoors in the fall is not good for them as they have a problem adjusting to the growing conditions."

We have some beautiful rex begonias here at Skillin's right now so come and take a look!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
January 23, 2010

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